Plague Novel To-Do List, Part 2

As I talked about last week, coming back to the plague novel after two months off and with a fistful of beta-reader feedback was a real struggle for me.  There were so many problems that I didn’t know where to start.

I decided to organize everything into a to-do list.  This has worked amazingly.

First, I had to just find my beta reader feedback sheets.  Compiling them all into Scrivener was kind of a chore in and of itself, because some of them were emailed, some were private-messaged on a discussion board, and others came to me through Facebook messenger.  Note for next time: ONE format for returning feedback.

Second, I went through them and I noted everything that the readers noted as problems.  There were many more “this is so cool!” sections than problems, which was great to read, but not as helpful for the revisions that I knew needed to happen.

Third, I took that random list of thing and organized it into two sections: big things, and small things.  Small things included continuity errors, age errors, minor issues with foreshadowing.  Big things included fixing the pacing in the first twenty chapters, large areas of foreshadowing, character arc and motivation issues, and problems with my characters being more reactive than proactive.

Fourth, I made a separate section that I just titled “thoughts.”  This was the section where I noted down what I thought would help fix some of the issues, and other things that I thought I could add or change.

Finally, I made a section called “positive feedback.”  I keep looking at this section when I feel discouraged to remind myself that the vast majority of the feedback I received was positive.  Because I’m focused on trying to fix things up, I’m focused a lot on the negatives, but there are a lot of positives there.  This is a good reason to keep going with the revisions and to try to sell this novel.

Making this to-do list in this format worked really well to get me over the inner heckler hump (“oh criminey you’re so bad at this why are you even trying this is a huge mess you can’t fix it”) and into a productive state of mind.  Now I have a checklist of things that I can do to help fix the mess, and a list of positive things that I can look at when I’m feeling down.  I think I’ll plan on doing this when I start getting betas back on my second manuscript.

Plague Novel To-Do List, Part 1

I have recently finished my NaNoWriMo book, and now I’m going back to the plague novel for another revision, this time taking my beta reader feedback into account.

I have grown so much as a writer since 2012, when I first started writing on a regular basis.  I grew so much more during the progression of the plague novel, the first manuscript in my life that I’ve actually completed. And this is a problem for the plague novel.

The writing quality and storytelling qualities are different from the beginning to the end.  Part of this is that, from the beginning of the book to Chapter 32, I sort of floundered around.  I discovery wrote the first chapter of the book as a writing group project.  The story set in my imagination, and I wanted to explore the situation further.  I came up with an idea for an ending early on, and some scenes that would be cool to throw into the book.

But getting from the beginning to the cool scenes to the end was more of a muddle than a middle.  I flailed around trying to write my way out of it.  I didn’t start outlining until around Chapter 25.  As a result, there are problems with the pacing in the first twenty chapters.  There are problems with the foreshadowing of certain events.  And the second half of the book is a lot more fun and interesting than the first half, with the exception of some really punchy chapters.

There are also continuity problems.  I changed the ages of the characters several times mid-write.  I didn’t make sheets for most of the characters.  A lot of them were just thrown in as needed, without any thought about their motivations, flaws, and backgrounds.  And because I kept all of my notes by hand, they weren’t always available to reference when I needed them.

In fact, I can spot so many problems and I have so much beta reader feedback that fixing this novel initially felt like an insurmountable obstacle.  The answer was a to-do list, which I’ll talk about next week.

Horrible Endings

It seems like most of my short stories are some sort of horror mix.  Setting aside what that says about me, it means I’ve run into a problem with my endings.

The main character dies at the end.  It’s usually just the way the story plays out in my head. And I feel that if you are playing with big bad enemies of whatever stripe, the chances of you living through are really low.  Especially if you’re a character over your head in a horror-based fiction.  But maybe that’s just my love of old noir films and novels coming through.

And I’ve occasionally thought that to be realistic, more characters should die in fiction.  But a friend recently told me that just because something is realistic doesn’t mean that someone wants to read it.  Even though it was a comment about something else, that really resonated with me.  People usually read for escapism, not realism, after all.

I’m thinking about redrafting a few things so that the main character didn’t die, and seeing if that’s received better.  Or maybe I should just start trying to sell my stories in France.